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Weekend Fishing Report

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2008

Be sure to check out Gene's new blog, "Inside Outside," on the Sports page of www.washingtontimes.com.

On to the fishing report: The Atlantic Ocean anywhere between Delaware and North Carolina delivers offshore catches of blue and white marlin, some sailfish, plenty of bull dolphins, king mackerel and bluefish. Closer to shore, hookups range from amberjacks and bluefish to Spanish mackerel and spadefish. It all depends whether you troll about in open water or drop your baits and lures around the pilings of a light tower.

In the Chesapeake Bay the fishing is very good. From the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, where black drum continue to hang around along with spadefish at the third and fourth islands, to the Northern Neck of Virginia and the Bay in Maryland where spot, croakers, rockfish and bluefish provide happy outings for boaters, occasionally even pier fishermen.

Today, 21 specially tagged striped bass will be released at various locations throughout the Bay and its tributaries. One of the 21 will be Diamond Jim, a fish worth $25,000 cash, courtesy of Boaters World and a $5,000 diamond from Smyth Jewelers, if caught by midnight on Aug. 31. The other tagged striped bass, all of them Diamond Jim imposters, will each be worth $500 in Boaters World gift certificates. Go to www.dnr.maryland.gov/fishingchallenge for additional details.

In the tidal waters of the Potomac River, continued good catches of bass are the norm for boaters. The bass fanatics now are becoming accustomed to also hooking Chinese snakehead fish, which cannot be released; they must be killed and disposed of on land.

If strong thunder showers stay away from the mountain rivers, the smallmouth bass, channel catfish and sunfish of the upper Potomac, Rappahannock, James, Shenandoah and Susquehanna rivers will cooperate for waders or anglers in shallow draft canoes or johnboats.

Here is this week's fishing outlook:

(Ratings key: ★★★★=excellent fishing; ★★★;=Good; ★★Fair; ★;=Poor.)

AREA 1: D.C. AND VICINITY

POTOMAC RIVER: 0-35 miles (★★★&#9733) — Fletcher's Cove (Georgetown, off Canal Road; call 202/244-0461) shows warm water, catfish and a few bass, but expect typical summertime fishing, which is not as red-hot as it is here during spring. Downriver from the District into Prince George's and Charles counties, as well as Virginia's Prince William County, count on bass bites along creek marsh edges, main stem weed patches and sunken wood. The hot lure right now is a wacky-rigged slow-sinking plastic worm, such as the Senko or Strike King Zero, pitched to the edges of cover as the tide recedes. Early and late hours can be fine for topwater lures. In the saltier water of the river, downstream of the Route 301 bridge, the chance of hooking a croaker continues to be iffy, but strong reports of stripers and croakers are coming in from the mouth of the Wicomico River, also from St. Clements, the channel edges of St. George's Island, Tall Timbers and the waters toward the Point Lookout area. The channel edges of the lower river can produce flounder of mixed size, particularly as you move over to Virginia's Smith Point area.

WICOMICO RIVER:55 miles (★★★) — The Bushwood sector near Quade's Store (301/769-3903) can give up croakers, perch and Norfolk spot, but finding the croakers is a chore. Start with channel edges dring receding tides and use uncooked shrimp pieces, squid strips or peeler crab chunks.

MATTAWOMAN CREEK: 40 miles (★★★) — Good early morning bass chances if you use topwater poppers, wacky-rigged worms, maybe a shallow-running crankbait such as the Baby 1-Minus by Mann's.

SOUTHERN MARYLAND LAKES: 40-50 miles (★★) — Gilbert Run Park's Wheatley Lake (Route 6, east of La Plata) gives up a few sunfish, but not much else. St. Mary's Lake (south on Route 5, past Leonardtown, to Camp Cosoma Road) offers good numbers of largemouth bass in all sizes. The lake's bluegills love night crawlers, live crickets, even flyrod popping bugs.

LITTLE SENECA LAKE: 30 miles (★★★) — Black Hill Regional Park (off Route 117 near Boyds, 301/972-9396) and the nearby Seneca Creek Lake (Clopper Road, Gaithersburg, 301/924-2127) feel the heat, but bass, sunfish and catfish are available if you can stand the temperatures.

WSSC RESERVOIRS: 20-30 miles (★★★) — (Triadelphia, off Route 97, or Route 650, in Montgomery County; Rocky Gorge, off Route 29 in Montgomery County) Even shoreline walkers at Rocky Gorge have had success near Scott's Cove. Either lake has good numbers of crappies, sunfish and bass.

PATUXENT RIVER: 25-60 miles (★★★) — Croakers can be caught in the river most everywhere you can find deep water, even in creeks that have deep holes. Ken Lamb, of Lexington Park's Tackle Box store, says the Norfolk spot are everywhere. "Some decent sized spot are on the Chinese Muds in the mouth of the Patuxent and in Kingston Hollow, as well as the Hawk's Nest," he said. Local angler Andy Croley fished Goose Creek at the Naval Air Station before sundown and caught throwback bluefish on light tackle. "After sundown the larger 14- to 16-inch blues were running and I caught them on cut spot," he said. Croley also got 10 spot and five rockfish on bloodworms. In the river clear up to Benedict you'll find white perch almost anywhere.

OCCOQUAN RESERVOIR: 25-30 miles (★★★) — From Fountainhead Park (Route 123, Fairfax County) ranger Smokey Davis said, "There has been a good crankbait bite on for bass this past week. Crawfish or shad color crankbaits that run 6 to 8 feet down have produced consistently off mainlake points. Carl Martin, of Manassass, caught a beautiful 4-pound smallmouth bass in the Bullrun arm of the reservoir. Crappies continue to bite well and channel catfish love chicken livers and clam snouts. The reservoir is at full pool, slightly stained; water temperatures are in the mid 80s."

BURKE LAKE: 29 miles (★★) — (Ox Road, Route 123, Fairfax County) Slow going for most species, but some well-fed bass and channel catfish are hooked.

AREA 2: CENTRAL, WESTERN MARYLAND

UPPER POTOMAC RIVER: 35-100 miles (★★★) — I know I said it last week, but this time of year you need to pray that prolonged, strong rains stay away because they can stain and raise water levels in a hurry. Smallmouth bass are in the deeper pockets, hiding behind mid-stream boulders or shady shoreline drops. Grubs and tubes will draw hits.

DEEP CREEK LAKE: 179 miles (★★★) — I saw lake guide Brent Nelson (240/460-8839) at the Bass Pro Shop near Baltimore a few days ago. He said, "I'm still skipping tubes under boat docks and occasionally work a jerkbait or soft worm around weed edges and in the backs of coves."

SUSQUEHANNA RIVER: 65-100 miles (★★) — A few smallmouths have been taken in the Port Deposit stretch, with largemouth bass now and then jumping on a plastic worm or spinnerbait among the Havre de Grace marina pilings or out in the main stem.

AREA 3: CHESAPEAKE BAY

MARYLAND: 45-75 miles (★★★) — Christy Henderson of Buzz's Marina (buzzsmarina.com) on St. Jerome's Creek in St. Mary's County, reported, "The Spanish mackerel are starting to show up on the surface now between the Middle Grounds and the Mud Leads. We're pretty excited about that. The bluefish are averaging 3- to 4-pounds each; they're being caught between the Point No Point Lighthouse and Point Lookout. Flounder seem to be scattered, but we see an occasional good-sized one come across our docks. There are great catches of croakers at the Holland Bar in the Middle Grounds, but mostly at night. Live lining [spot] for stripers around the Point No Point Lighthouse and the spider buoy at Point Lookout has been producing good results." Meanwhile, Ken Lamb of the Tackle Box in Lexington Park said, "Big bluefish are [found] from the Target Ship to Smith Point, Va., as well as lots of Spanish mackerel. The mackerel are up to 28 inches long; blues weigh up to four pounds, but tiny bluefish (4 to 7 inches) are chasing the little spot and croakers in all areas." Elsewhere in the Bay, rockfish are taking live spot baits at the Gas Docks (around the corner of the Patuxent River mouths and up the Bay a little). Some of the recreational anglers complain that commercial hook-and-liners are removing far too many stripers. The commercials are allowed to keep 800 pounds of rockfish per week until the end pof November; recreational fishermen are allowed 2 stripers of 18 inches or more per day. Doesn't seem right, does it? Up the Chesapeake, trollers and sight casters connect on mostly small stripers and blues from the Chesapeake Beach area and east of there up to the Bay Bridges and points in between. The blues and stripers also show up around Hackett's and across the Bay to the Chester River mouth at Love Point.

VIRGINIA: 75-150 miles (★★★) — Northern Neck charter fishing captain Billy Pipkin (captbilly@captbillyscharters.com) reminds us that the Virginia flounder season reopens tomorrow and that the Cell, located near Buoy 42 below the Cut Channel, continues to offer good chances for the flat fish. "Several citations flounder of 7 pounds or more have been landed there this season," he said. Pipkin said that croakers are making a stronger showing with large specimens showing on the lumps between Buoy 62 and the RN2 marker below Tangier. Gray sea trout in the 12- to 14-inch class are showing up among the hardheads. If it's jumbo spot you want, the mouth of the Rappahannock River, Butler's Hole and the Spike are filled with the tasty scrappers. A good mix of spot and croakers are seen in Dividing Creek, the Great Wicomico and Blackberry Hang, located just below Smith Point. Spanish mackerel please spoon trollers from the Rappahannock's Windmill Point to Smith Point. Meanwhile, from the lowest parts of the Chesapeake Bay Julie Ball (www.drjball.com) reports that black drum continue to move around the islands of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Spadefish are more predictable now, but the run of the larger fish is over, she said. Croaker are everywhere from the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Some of these croakers can weigh up to 3 pounds.

AREA 4: EASTERN SHORE/MARYLAND

CHOPTANK RIVER:120 miles (★★★) — (Route 50 east to Cambridge) Small bluefish, occasional 4-pounders, plus a handful of rockfish and plenty of dark-hour croakers are in the mouth. Upstream action in Cambridge at the fishing bridge points mostly to small spot, white perch and a croaker now and then..

POCOMOKE RIVER: 140-170 miles (★★) — (From Snow Hill down to Shad Landing) Slow going for bass; very slow. Catfish and sunnies are taken by campers at Shad Landing park.

NANTICOKE RIVER: 120 miles (★★) — (Sharptown ramp off Route 313, or use the Marshyhope Creek ramp outside Federalsburg) No real improvement over last week in the Sharpwtown area, but upstream waters near the Delaware line show a few bass along spatterdock edges.

AREA 5: CENTRAL VIRGINIA

LAKE ANNA: 82 miles (★★★) — (Route 208, Spotsylvania County) You absolutely must start your fishing in the wee hours to enjoy a measure of success with bass and landlocked rockfish. The dark hours are great for tossing topwater chug lures toward rocks, wood, even open water in the case of rockfish that often show up above the Splits. After sunup, the rockfish go to the deepest holes. In the case of largemouth bass, if you throw an early morning topwater lure, they'll do the rest, but switch to soft plastics as the sun bakes the water.

RAPPAHANNOCK RIVER: 47-100 miles (★★) — Your best bet for smallmouth bass is a fair wading stretch around the Rapidan junction. Chartreuse/pepper grubs will do the job in low water. You'll have to find a few deep holes to score. The tidal water bass action has been slow, but a few are taken with soft plastics near Hicks Landing.

LAKE BRITTLE: 59 miles (★★) — (Route 793, off Route 29) Slow as far as bass are concerned, but catfish and bluegills are in ample supply.

LAKE ORANGE: 75 miles (★★★) — (Concessionaire: 540/672-3997; look for left turn sign on Route 20 before entering town of Orange) Largemouth bass have schooled in the early hours, chasing minnows. Surface lures can work well when that happens, but soft plastics are better as the sun rises. Crappies are willing in up to 15-foot-deep water, so be prepared to drop your line and minnow deep. Catfish are always wililng to inhale a cut bait or clam necks.

LAKE GASTON: 179 miles (★★★) — (Route 46, Gasburg) Lake resident Marty Magone said, "Main lake patterns are still holding. Get out early and pick any number of shallow points adjacent to the river channel. Topwater lures, jigs and plastics all work well before the jet-skis come out. Upriver, the stripers and catfish are nailing live shad rigs below the Kerr dam area. Schools of white bass can be located in 20 feet of water near the Eaton's Ferry Bridge for fishermen using blade baits. You'll get lots of strikes and a few [of the fish] are of good eating size."

KERR RESERVOIR: 185 miles (★★★) — (Route 58, Clarksville) Early hours are fine for bass around creek entrances, sunken wood and brush. Wacky-rigged plastic worms can score, so can spinnerbaits and buzzbaits. Catfish are always hungry in this lake, so bring some cut fish to be used as bait.

JAMES RIVER: 115 miles (★★) — (Tidal Richmond area and downstream) A repeat of last week: Slow going for the big blue catfish.

CHICKAHOMINY RIVER: 135 miles (★★★) — (Williamsburg area) Bass like minnows or minnow-like jerkbaits, but also topwater chug baits. Catfish are willing if you are. The river is seeing higher than normal salinity levels because of low amounts of fresh water entering the upper river.

AREA 6: WESTERN VIRGINIA

SHENANDOAH RIVER: 75-85 miles (★★★) — (Route 340, Front Royal, Luray and Bentonville areas) Water is warm, so start early. Cast your grubs and tubes into shoreline brush or rock formations. The smallmouth bass will take it from there.

SMITH MOUNTAIN LAKE: 210 miles (★★★) — (Route 122, east of Roanoke) Surface water temperatures are over 80 degrees so think of fishing deep when you're after striped bass. The bass catches are holding up nicely, with Pop-R's and Rico surface lures scoring during overcast or dark hours. Spinnerbaits and plastic worms work well during daytimes.

UPPER JAMES RIVER: 130 miles (★★★) — (Route 6, south of Charlottesville, Scottsville) The smallmouth bass have been cooperating in the Howardsville to Bremo area, says the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Water conditions are low, but almost daily thunder showers help a bit, although they also tend to discolor the river. P{oppers, tubes and spinners do well.

AREA 7: ATLANTIC OCEAN

MARYLAND: 153-175 miles (★★★) — (Route 50 to Ocean City) Offshore boaters find marlin, even some sailfish and beautiful dolphinfish, with a possibility of hooking tasty king mackerel. The inshore waters produce chopper bluefish, but you need to work hard on any other species, such as sea bass or other wreckfish. In Ocean City's surf expect some kingfish, skates, snapper blues and sand sharks, while the backwaters give up flounder and a few nighttime stripers at the inlet.

VIRGINIA: 210 miles to Virginia Beach (★★★) — Virginia Beach's Julie Ball (drjball.com) said, "King mackerel are making an extraordinary introduction as boats scramble to get in on this exciting bite along the Virginia Beach shoreline. Many boats are experiencing multiple hook-ups with most fish ranging around 20-pounds." She also reported that offshore action is on the upswing with several boats returning with multiple white marlin releases and big bull dolphin catches. "Captain Mike Romeo, skipper of the Gannet out of the Virginia Beach Fishing Center, scored on a trip with four whites this week," Ball said. Another boat returned to Virginia Beach with seven marlin flags flying. The wahoos are also making a good showing. Along the Eastern Shore, flounder fishing will get underway tomorrow, but the most excitement so far these past several weeks have been visits from the Sout by large tarpon. For charters, call the Virginia Beach Fishing Center, 757/491-8000.

Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.